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A Closer Look at Performance and Security Updates to AIX 7.2

The AIX OS is not going away, and IBM's support of Linux is not a threat to AIX.

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I still hear from people who are convinced that the AIX* OS is going away. I’ve done my best to refute these arguments by pointing out that IBM’s support of Linux* is not a threat to AIX. I’ve even asked some well-known experts to explain why our favorite OS isn’t going anywhere.

But if you want to really understand why the OS has a bright future, start by taking a look back. IBM has been putting out roadmaps for years. In charts available prior to the Version 7.2 release, “AIX Next” served as a placeholder name for the upcoming variant. If you go back to 5L’s debut in 2001, you can see a consistent cadence of OS releases (and retirements) every three to five years. And every year or so, new service pack support is announced.

As with previous releases, I’ve seen current charts labeled “AIX Next.” AIX 7.2 became generally available in 2015, so we can expect something new around 2020. Will it be called AIX 7.3? AIX 8.1? AIXi? AIX X? Only time will tell, but rest assured, “next” is coming.

Performance and Security

In the meantime, let’s discuss the AIX OS in the present. I recently attended an IBM briefing about the latest AIX 7.2 technology level (TL). TL3 is expected to be available in the latter part of this year. Here are some highlights:

  • AIX will support running up to 1536 threads (192 cores running at SMT8) and up to 32 TB of RAM in a single LPAR. When I stop to think about that, I’m amazed. For as long as I’ve been at this, a terabyte of anything still seems like a large number.
  • In conjunction with IBM PowerVM* virtualization and IBM POWER9*, you’ll be able to include AIX in a processor-based chain of trust to secure the booting process. Secure Boot for firmware images helps prevent unauthorized access to customer data—either through unauthorized firmware running on a host processor or from security vulnerabilities in authorized service processor firmware or its hardware service interfaces.
  • Trusted Remote Attestation of firmware images enables a remote system to determine the level of trust in the integrity of the platform. The OS will also support trusted install and update, and an option will allow only privileged users to run kernel tracing.
  • Enhanced support for alt_disk_mksysb installs allow for customized boot images to be copied during alternate disk maintenance
  • Additional open-source tools and solutions from the AIX Toolbox for Linux applications
  • JFS2 file space reclaim for enhanced efficiency with thin provisioned storage solutions
  • Look for new Multipath I/O (MPIO) enhancements to support disk storage attached through the AIX iSCSI software initiator. MPIO storage resiliency will also be enhanced with changes to IBM-recommended MPIO drivers. Related: The recommended multipath driver to use on AIX and the VIO server when attached to SVC and IBM Storwize* storage devices running microcode levels Version 7.6.1 and later will be changing from SDDPCM to the default AIXPCM (ibm.co/2nzM1Do). SDDPCM won’t be supported on POWER9.
  • AIX 7.2 TL3 will run in SMT8 mode as a system default. This change stems from POWER9 showing impressive results with SMT8 (ibm.co/2nzM1Do).

Lastly, IBM recently released a statement of direction (SOD) that should excite administrators who need to connect their AIX systems to Windows* environments. The SOD reads in part: “IBM intends to enable the SMB2 (server message block) version for AIX to enable data exchange between AIX and Windows OSes.”

The Quiet Transformation

With each new release and each new TL, AIX users get more features and greater functionality. The OS, although superficially similar to AIX 4.3.3 or 5.3, has undergone many improvements to get us to AIX 7.2, yet IBM has done so in such a way to be minimally disruptive to the platform’s long-time administrators and users.

An important example of IBM’s care to minimize disruption comes with the release of the new POWER9 processor-based systems. AIX allows for Live Partition Mobility to help with planned migrations. LPARs running AIX levels supporting POWER9 servers can be migrated live from POWER7* or POWER8* systems to POWER9 systems and be run there as is, without workload interruption. Some clients seem to be unaware of this critical option. You’ll definitely want to keep this in mind as you plan and prepare to migrate to POWER9 hardware.

The AIX OS has always been rock-solid. While all of the changes over the years are incremental in nature, taken together, they’ve transformed AIX.

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